Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 17
It’s not about the feelings
During our stay in Makkah, our last tawaaf right near the Kabah came a few nights before we left. I hated it. It was so full and uncomfortable that my focus was not on dua, dhikr, or spiritual thoughts – but on the difficulty and unpleasantness of the experience. But it reminded me of a crucial lesson in Islam: we don’t worship feelings.
You see, in ibadah, it’s amazing to have the beautiful feelings of peace, contentment, and an emotional connection to Allah. But such things are not pre-requisites for acceptance of the deeds, and even though they feel good, our feelings shouldn’t be our motivator for those acts of worship.
In Islam, we don’t worship our feelings. We worship Allah. And this applies in all conditions and states of mind and heart – even when we’re distracted and spiritually weak. So I took this experience as a reminder I need to always live by.
On the 1st of Dhul Hijjah, rocketing hotel prices prompt many hujjaaj to leave Makkah and spend the last week before Hajj in Aziziah – which is a nearby suburb. And on our last night before leaving, we got up at 12.30AM for the final tawwaf of our stay there. With Jumuah just hours away, and the prospect of chaos since we’d be leaving that afternoon, it felt crazy, but we had to do it. Logic said to just rest and sleep. But this was our last chance, so logic lost the argument.
The mataaf was too full, so we went to the roof for tawaaf. It took much longer, but it was much more peaceful and gave me the time and space to enjoy and take benefit from the experience.
Then came a few hours of sleep, followed by the morning rush in which we left 3 hours early for Jumuah. We spent that long waiting time in the masjid – making dua, reading, and doing other beneficial activities. (Tip: If you really can’t stand the heat, get a spot in the airconditioned basement. You don’t see much, but at least you keep cool.) The sheer length of waiting time again reminded me of how – back home – I need to make more effort to be early in the masjid (for all salaahs – not just Jumuah), and not let laziness and distractions deprive me of the blessings of being early.
We were to leave the hotel after Jumuah, but, predictably, there were some delays – so we had time to get some lunch (which was amazingly cheap yet still tasty J). Finally, we got onto our bus and made the journey to our new home: Aziziah.
Back to reality
At different points of the journey, our group leaders joked about the systematic decline in the standard of accommodation for the trip. Five star in Madinah, four star in Makkah, no star in Aziziah, then all the stars in Muzdalifah.
Seeing our room in Aziziah confirmed that it was no joke. The place was kind of like a hostel, and actually reminded me of a prison in some ways: the bright lights inside, the confined space, and an incredibly small bathroom (though if you live in London, you may have used something similarly small).
We got these very thin slippers, saying “Warmly welcome” – courtesy of China Tourism. China Tourism also provided other material, like the soaps. And we’d been warned that the toilet pipes were small – which meant this sign wasn’t too much of a surprise:
Since we couldn’t stomach the thought (or smell) of throwing used toilet paper into the bin, frequent flushing was a better alternative.
The bathroom space was…well, “economical”. If you sat on the toilet, your legs would be in the shower. And with a largely ineffective shower curtain, you’d be sure to wet the floor with every shower. But, sensibly, the hosts provided a mop, and there was a drain outlet on the bathroom floor.
The geyser was above the toilet (and it was secure enough to not fall on our heads ;), and the sink was unusually big – almost the same area as the shower cubicle’s floor space. Additionally, we got one (unclean) towel, which ended up being our floor towel (and we used my spare ihraam as bath towels).
The room and more
The room itself was decently-sized. It housed an old airconditioner, one window, a large table, no cupboards, 2 single beds, and a mirror. Outside, we shared a small, communal kitchen with our neighbours.
All in all, it kind of reminded me of a dingy hotel room in New York. But we were in no position to be picky. We weren’t here for luxury, and we sure weren’t getting any in this place ;).
Downstairs, the eating hall was also comical – with ceilings so low you’d have to bend to avoid hitting your head in some places (as one unfortunate person soon learned).
Meal times further reinforced the prison-like atmosphere: our Indian hosts would lay out the food (almost always curry or another Indian dish), each person dished out in a plastic carton, took their bottle of (warm) water, then sat at a table and ate.
After my first meal, I went to wash my hands at the nearby sink. The dispensers on the wall said “Shampoo” and “Conditioner” – but both were empty, so I used the Nivea tube on the sink – thinking it was at least some kind of cleaning liquid.
It wasn’t. It turned out to be coconut oil – and I only realised it when I was already washing my hands. And so, my first dining experience in Aziziah ended with a full stomach, and coconut-smelling hands.
With first impressions like these, you’d think I’d want a refund from the Hajj operator – given the high price of this accommodation. But that wasn’t the case at all. Despite the shortcomings, this place had a simplicity that perfectly fitted our purpose for that period.
In the lead-up to Hajj, we needed to divorce ourselves from luxury, cleanse ourselves of worldly attachments, and prepare – wholeheartedly – for the coming 5 days. And our Aziziah accommodation – free of the comfort and distractions of Makkah and Madinah – seemed to be an ideal setting for that.
Coming up next, insha-Allah: Jabbal Nur
- In acts of worship, when things aren’t going your way and you’re not feeling “into it” – remember that you’re not doing it for the feelings. You’re doing it for the sake of Allah. So persevere and make dua for an improvement in the situation, but remember that we don’t worship feelings – we worship Allah.
- For any salaah –but especially Jumuah –if you can’t stand the heat, go early and try to get a spot in the airconditioned basement. But, because there’s not much to see, make sure you take your Quran, dua list, or other things to do.
- In Makkah and Madinah, it becomes necessary to be at the masjid early for each salaah. Take advantage of that waiting time, and make it a long-term reminder too: that back home, you should also try to be early to the masjid.
- These days, the comforts of shopping malls and luxury hotels can really distract you from your purpose on this journey – which isn’t ideal preparation for Hajj. If you’re able to, right before the 5 days, try to get some simple accommodation that’ll be conducive to Hajj preparation.
- If you manage to get such lodging, look past the faults and focus on cleansing yourself of worldly attachments, and preparing your heart, mind, and body for the upcoming days.
- On a practical note, if your lodging has small toilets, be economical with the toilet paper, and flush frequently – rather than throwing used toilet paper in the bin. It may seem like a waste of water, but hygiene comes before convenience.
- Also on the practical side, when you’re not sure what’s in a soap dispenser or cosmetic tube, always pour a little out first. Don’t be deceived by labels – lest you end up with oily, coconut-smelling hands 😉
What happened next?
Update: The entire series (30 parts) is available at this link – post by post. Alternatively, you can download the complete series as an e-book in PDF format. Feel free to share with anyone you think may benefit.
Image sources: Both pictures taken by me